If one happens to see a man wearing baggy trousers, enormous shoes, a bowler hat, carrying a bamboo cane and strutting around in acrobatic elegance, then one can be rest assured that the man on the celluloid screen is none other than 'The Tramp' of the 1920s, portrayed by Charles Spencer Chaplin or Charlie Chaplin as he is popularly known.
The portrayal of 'The Tramp’ was a universally recognized symbol of indestructible individuality, triumphing over adversity and persecution, both human and mechanical. This won him great acclaim as the tragi-comedian of the silent movie era.
Before the sonorous entering of sound into the cinematic world Charlie Chaplin's individual style of performing, derived from the circus clown and mime, combined with expressive gesture, facial eloquence and impeccable timing had the world swooning for more of Chaplin’s dramatic art. His stupendous performance changed gave a face lift to the slapstick and changed the jaunty stereotype into a compassionate human figure loved world wide. Chaplin's treatment of his subjects compounded satire and pathos. it revealed a love of humanity and individual freedom.


Ironically this king of comedy who had the audience rolling on their seats had a woeful past. He was born on 16 April, 1889 at London to poor parents. They were music hall artists. After struggling to make ends meet, Chaplin's father an alcoholic, would spend the money on drink, to the dismay of his family. This put responsibility on Chaplin and he was pushed on stage when he was barely five. His father's untimely death and his mother's lack of good health made orphans of the little children. and his brother Sid found themselves in an orphanage until their mother recovered sufficiently to look after them. She worked hard and began to support her family by sewing blouses.
To supplement the family's income Charlie joined a touring music hall act, "The eight Lancashire Lads", at the age of seven. After working for a year he joined school for two years. This was the only formal education he ever had in his life. Soon his mother's mental health once again began to deteriorate and he found himself once again at the mercy of providence. By this time his brother had left for the sea and Charlie for a few months led a life of a waif midst the dirt and squalor of London Streets. The experience left an indelible mark on the young impressionistic mind of the young Charlie. Years iater in a poignant portrayal of a young waif (played by Jackie Coogan) Chaplin recreated his long buried past.


In 1910, Chaplin toured the United States with a pantomime troupe and decided to remain in the country. At first he acted in small parts in plays like Peter Pan, Jim, Sherlock Holmes, the Romance of a Cockney and other famous theater plays of the time.
By 1913, Chaplin was already a rated comedian of the famous Fred Karno Company. But the upheaval in the cinema world where American companies fearing foreign competition plunged into making “feature-length" films instead of the short two reelers. The market was open with a demand for fresh actors. Screen adaptations were the pulse of the day. Chaplin ceased this opportunity and bid farewell to Kamo's company. Even theaters like Broadway saw a general exodus of actors in search of greener pastures.
Chaplin got a break at the Keystone Company at hundred and fifty dollars a week. This was three times the salary he got as a theatre artist. At Keystone Mack Sennett was the producer. His basic focus was on slapstick. The enormously popular Keystone Kops who were a bunch of incompetents and who never could nab their man is well known. Charlie’s entrance into the studio which was a vast open platform covered with muslin sheets for diffused lighting was to begin with not encouraging. Slapstick was not really Chaplin's style. His training as a pantomime artist had made him a more subtle performer for whom a twitch of the eyebrow and and a flick of a muscle was as important as a man failing on a banana peel! He found acceptance amongst his company workers also slow to come. But it was his friendship with the two comedians Arbuckle and Swain that kept him afloat during these hard times.
“Making a Living" was his first film at Keystone. He wore a frock-coat, top hat, walrus moustache and eyeglasses. It took one week to produce the film and Chaplin received moderate success.
It was with the film "Kid Auto Races at Venice", that Chaplin was showered with accolades that his talent most deserved. In this film he wore the famous ‘Charlie Chaplin' costume that won the hearts of millions around the world.
Providence and chance played key roles, in placing Chaplin on the world stage. Sennett, the Keystone producer was in a habit of putting spare actors and actress in the foreground of public gatherings. He would at times even shoot a short film with the crowd in the background. It would save him the expense of the "extras." lt was for such a public occasion of a children’s auto race at a sea side resort of Venice, outside Los Angeles that Charlie found himself detailed He was to improvise a comic film of about quarter of an hour’s duration. For assembling such a comic costume, he borrowed from Fatty Arbuckle and Ford Sterling the famous costume that would take him to world fame. Thus, was born the idolatry figure, “The Tramp" that would enthrall the world with its performance for many years to come. This 45 minutes film of dashing on the racetrack, getting in the way of the dummy camera and being persuaded by the Keystone Kops, established Chaplin's reputation internationally. Chaplin wore the same costume for the next 25 years in 70 films.
Within one year Chaplin signed a contract with Essanay Films for twelve hundred and fifty dollars a week. Later Mutual signed him for ten thousand dollars a week.
While working in Shoulder Arms, a satire on army life, Chaplin met Mildred Harris, a sixteen year old actress. Chaplin fell hopelessly in love with her and married her that October. The following year a son was born to them. He died three days later. Chaplin never could get over the loss of his “Little Mouse." His marriage from then on was a disaster. Chaplin later married another young actress called, Lita Grey. A son Charles Spencer Chaplin Jr. was born to them, followed by a second son Sydney Earl Chaplin. The marriage like the previous one failed and Charles was quoted by Lita herself, as saying, "Well boys this is better than the penitentiary, but it won’t last." Perhaps, Chaplin’s near fatal attraction for the young girls and their difficulty in understanding the older more complex man they were married to was the raison d'etre for the failure in matrimony. in 1927 they divorced and Lita received 600$ by way of compensation. He then married and divorced the actress Paulette Goddard. ln 1943, at the age of 54 Chaplin married the 18 year old daughter of the well known playwright Eugene O’Neil. At last he found matrimonial! Bliss.
In 1919 Chaplin helped found the United Artists Corporation, with which he was associated with until 1952. Important pictures Chaplin produced and starred in include The Kid (1921), The Pilgrim (1923), The Gold Rush (1925), The Circus (1928), City Lights (1931), Modem Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Limelight (1952), and A Key in New York (1967). He composed background music for most of his films. The Gold Rush was probably the most- celebrated film of Charlie Chaplin's carrier. According to Chaplin it was, . . the picture I want to be remembered by."
In 1921, the year The kid was released Chaplin taking a trip down the memory lane visited London. He received an overwhelming reception in the same streets that had once shunned him when as waif he was out alone in the cold, many years back. He was knighted in 1975.
The City Lights was perhaps Chaplin's greatest films. It confirmed Chaplin's position as a creative intellectual genius of the world cinema. Despite Chaplin’s lack of formal education he was very receptive to ideas. When D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation came to Los Angeles he made it a point to see it many times to understand the subtleties thoroughly.


Chaplin was criticized for his leftist political views. He migrated to Switzerland in 1952. In 1972 he briefly returned to the United States and received several tributes, among them a special Academy Award for special contribution to the film industry. He died in 1977.
Chaplin‘s legend lives on as hundreds of movie loving people all around the world throng to see the funny "little man” and buy a laugh for a few dollars. Crediting him as an "entertainer supreme” would only be an understatement.

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